Fear of death in Mrs. Dalloway

Essay by Little_GUniversity, Bachelor's June 2008

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In "Mrs. Dalloway" Woolf discovered a new literary form that expresses the new realities of postwar England. Divided into parts, rather than chapters, the novel's structure highlights the finely interwoven thoughts of the characters.

Woolf develops the book’s protagonist, Clarissa Dalloway, and myriad other characters by chronicling their interior thoughts with little pause or explanation, a style referred to as stream of consciousness. Several central characters and more than one hundred minor characters appear in the text, and their thoughts spin out like spider webs. Sometimes the threads of thought cross—and people succeed in communicating. More often, however, the threads do not cross, leaving the characters isolated and alone.

Characters in Mrs. Dalloway occasionally perceive life’s pattern through a sudden shock, or what Woolf called a “moment of being.”Her novel attempts to uncover fragmented emotions, such as desperation or love, in order to find, through “moments of being,” a way to endure.

In spite of her heroic and imperfect effort in life, Clarissa, like every human being and even the old social order itself, must face death.

She identifies with Septimus, admiring him for having taken the plunge and for not compromising his soulClarissa Dalloway, the heroine of the novel, struggles constantly to balance her internal life with the external world.

For most of the novel she considers aging and death with trepidation, even as she performs life-affirming actions, such as buying flowers.

She experiences a moment of clarity and peace when she watches her old neighbor through her window, and by the end of the day she has come to terms with the possibility of death. Like Septimus, Clarissa feels keenly the oppressive forces in life, and she accepts that the life she has is all she’ll get. Her will to endure, however, prevails.

On the...